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Wednesday, 15 July 1998
Page: 6115

Mr NEHL (12:32 PM) —First of all, I have to say congratulations to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Anderson) on getting this through. It has been a long time in the oven, but at last it is baked and is on the way. I have to say, quite sincerely, thank God we have this because the people in my electorate—and this would apply to those whom the member for Corangamite (Mr McArthur) mentioned—have been distraught about what has been happening in north-eastern New South Wales, particularly because of the Carr government. I am also delighted that this RFA legislation provides for compensation if, ultimately, a New South Wales Labor government reneges and backs away. That is essential because I have very little faith in Mr Carr and his government in Macquarie Street.

Why would I say that? The reality is that they have gone out on their own, without consultation with the Commonwealth, to try to pre-empt a proper, reasonable and sensible forest agreement. They have created new national parks and new wildernesses willy-nilly. How can they call an area where cattle have been grazing a wilderness? A wilderness would surely be somewhere which is pristine, untouched. But, if it has been grazed for decades, I do not know how in their right mind they can do that. Of course, they do not really believe it is a wilderness. They are just pre-empting the RFA, and they are trying to establish more and more into the national parks system.

I am a great supporter of national parks. Thank goodness we have national parks. They are marvellous. But there seems to be an empire building concept in the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. They want to grab everything they can. They already have over 30 per cent of the coastline, and now they are seeking to do it again. In June, the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service wrote to farmers on the upper Macleay—that is above Kempsey—trying to involve them in a wilderness dispute once again. A number of those farmers and property holders had received letters.

While it is right and proper to consider forest areas for various values such as timber production, biodiversity, old growth and so on, that should not be extended to cover private land and leasehold land. That is what they are seeking to do. There is no way, as I said before, that a property currently being used for grazing can be resumed and said to be a wilderness. That is absolute nonsense. The other thing is that, if those individual farmers have a wilderness declaration hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles, they cannot even sell their property. It destroys their value. It destroys their lives.

Talking about the destruction of lives, in northern New South Wales—and I can mention towns like Bonalbo, Woodenbong and Dorrigo in my electorate—thousands of jobs have already been lost. I have a great many friends who are timber workers or small mill owners. It is very hard work. It is very dangerous work. In fact, among my close personal friends, I number a great many who do not have the forefinger or have various joints missing off other fingers. It is a dangerous job. It is a hard job.

I believe that they need the support of this parliament. But, in the whole process leading up to this—with the RACAC inquiry in northern New South Wales and elsewhere and the FISAP situation—we have lost jobs and mills have closed. People who have been timber carters, bringing the logs out of the forests—again, a hard job—have lost their business, have lost their jobs. A number of towns have been virtually destroyed. You just cannot go on the single criterion of the forest itself. You have to consider the social and the economic impacts and the disruption of families when the jobs are lost.

Unfortunately, you have those who you might regard as fanatic environmentalists. But, let's face it, anybody who is not in favour of looking after the environment is a nut. I believe we must protect our environment, but we have got to do it in a balanced and regional manner. If you compare new forests, new trees, with old growth, the reality is that the amount of carbon dioxide absorption from old trees is very little, whereas the new trees produce a lot more oxygen and absorb a lot more carbon dioxide. The natural process of old trees being used and new trees being planted is incredibly beneficial for the whole of the environment. I do not have the figures at the moment, but the value of new forests as a carbon sink to take that carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is incredibly valuable.

We have some people who say, `You should not cut down the old trees.' But it is a renewable resource. It is not like coal. Once you have burned all the coal, it is gone. Once you have used all the oil, it is gone. Once you have mined all the iron ore, it is gone. But you can farm, you can plant, you can harvest trees and forests. This is absolutely essential to the future of mankind.

There is no way that I advocate that we should clear everything. We have got to preserve our forests. We have got to plant more. I hope that, in time, this parliament, this government, might be able to come forward with an incentive scheme to encourage people to plant more forests. We have to do it. Of course, the reality is that we are planting an enormous amount. Regard is never really given to that. That is just walked away from. The reality is that the number of hectares of new forest in Australia is growing all the time.

We have got an industry which has traditionally employed a lot of people. We have got an industry in which the former Forestry Commission of New South Wales managed the harvesting of the forests in a very sensible way. They did this very well indeed. We have got to get back to the point where we had a commonsense approach to forestry. You cannot lock it all up. Equally, you cannot cut it all down. You have got to have a balanced approach and a reasonable plan which will provide ongoing employment, ongoing subsistence, for the towns and the people. That is what is going to come out of these regional forest agreements.

My only fear, my only worry, is with the New South Wales government because, so far, their track record has been disgraceful. They have been predators. They have taken vast areas of forest into national parks and wilderness without any consultation. Also, the science that has been used for determining what should be put into the comprehensive regional assessment has been marred, has been faulty. There is no doubt about that. Those doing the interpretation have done a disservice to the state and to the nation because I believe there are major errors in the interpretation.

We have got to make sure that the New South Wales government becomes fair dinkum, accepts that there has to be a forest industry and does not seek to shut it down. All the evidence from Macquarie Street is that they are seeking to shut down the forest industry. They shift the goalposts all the time. We have got to have sensible regional forest agreements so that people know where they are, so they have security and the right to harvest. The right to get your timber out has to be guaranteed.

I commend this bill to the House. I believe it is on the right track. The sooner we can get sensible regional forest agreements, particularly for north-eastern New South Wales, without the New South Wales Labor government emasculating them, the better.